Discipline and Virtue

“Well, nothing worth having comes without some kind of fight; got to kick at the darkness ‘till it bleeds daylight.” (Bruce Cockburn)  Things worth having are things worth fighting for.  Even prayer is like that.  It’s a discipline.  It doesn’t matter if it’s private prayer – the kind you do on your own, just you and God, or public prayer – like the liturgies we celebrate: Sunday Mass, for example.

Athletes and musicians know about discipline.  It is about working out, practicing, getting down to it – even when you don’t want to.  We discipline ourselves and our families in all sorts of ways.  The first step to discipline is by starting and keeping good habits.  In the Christian life we call these virtues.  There are the Cardinal Virtues recognized in Western civilization since antiquity.  They are Prudence, Justice, Temperance, and Fortitude (or Courage).

In the Christian tradition, there are also the Theological Virtues: Faith, Hope, and Love.  These all require something from us.  They are as much a gift as an act of the will.  Again, we have to practice virtue so that it becomes habit.

It comes as no surprise that it is harder to be good than to be not so good.  The Church has a fancy word for this: concupiscence.  There is a certain entropy to the discipline of acquiring good habits.  Call it the effects of Original Sin, or call it the human condition, but it seems clear that being good is hard.  The “ought” of living takes discipline, and, in the Christian tradition, a certain amount of grace.

What is the opposite of virtue?  Well, we all know that that is vice.  Scripture is replete with examples of various vices, from Israel to the writings of St. Paul.  We are lazy, slothful, prideful, hard-hearted, and greedy.  We fail to love selflessly.  Yes, this is sin.

We build high walls and put God on the other side in our lives.  God is always calling us back.  We forget about the presence of Christ which is always with us.  We fail to recognize it.  But again, God calls us continually back.  All we must do is embrace him.

Take advantage of the opportunities given to you in your life to discipline your spiritual lives.  One of the simplest things we can do is recognize our shortcomings and ask forgiveness – the person to whom we’ve wronged, and from God.  The Church provides the Sacraments as a means of grace – the restoration of God’s presence in our lives.

What is the first step to disciplining our spirits?  Talk to God privately – personal prayer, and talk to God publically – GO TO CHURCH.

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